Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by setting unrealistically high standards and expectations that lead to being hypercritical of many things, including themselves and other people. Many of us also believe that perfection is a necessary trait if greatness is to ever be achieved.
Attaining perfection is not necessarily bad. It is when the aim toward perfection causes serious mental health issues that it becomes a problem. When it creates unhealthy patterns of self-loathing, guilt, hypercriticism, and similar negative attributes it turns into a toxic trait that needs addressing.
Perfectionism Begins In Our Imagination
Our capacity to conjure ideal scenarios enables us to create many possibilities. However, executing our plans, in reality, may not exactly yield the same results we hoped for and imagined. Our reaction toward this disparity of reality not meeting our expectations can be the source of unhealthy self-defeating thoughts.
At its core, perfectionism can also be rooted in a deep sense of unworthiness. It can potentially be an issue of self-worth disguised as overworking, being extremely driven, or doing more than is necessary to a point of pain and inconvenience.
It is not wrong to do more than what is asked, but a relentless pursuit and tendency to constantly go to the extreme can be dangerous to your mental health. It may be where you are more focused on gaining the approval of others or feeling accepted than only wanting to create flawless work, or being the best version of yourself.
If this is the case, perfectionism could be your subconscious mind making up for any inadequacies you feel. This all leads to anxiety and stress and unhealthy behaviors, which is the direct opposite of the outcome that’s being intended.
How Perfectionism Affects Your Mental Health
It is not wrong to strive for excellence. Don’t think you have a ‘disorder’ that needs to be beaten out of you. You just don’t want your perfectionism to be so intense in your life that there is no room for error.
It is no secret that although perfectionism is not a disorder, it is closely linked to mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and stress. There are many other mental health disorders too, including emotional overeating, eating disorders, self-harm, and social anxiety.
It stands to reason that all these disorders may arise, as the constant pursuit of perfection in life can take a toll on anyone’s emotional and mental wellbeing.
Perfectionism creates self-deprecating thoughts in the face of disappointments, setbacks, and frustrations. As reality makes all of these things a possibility, perfectionists are most vulnerable to the negative outcomes of perfectionism.
Professionals have studied suicide and the link to having perfectionist traits. If people with perfectionist tendencies don’t perform as well as they should, or have a fear of being seen as imperfect, they may exhibit suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In one study more than 50% of those who died from suicide were known by their loved ones as perfectionists. The people who committed suicide were the types of people who always created very high expectations of themselves.
This is why perfectionism must be taken seriously if a person is showing signs of constantly pushing themselves to the extreme. It can push them to breaking point, which as shown above, can cause mental health problems that in some cases can lead to death.
Break the Perfectionistic Cycle
It takes self-awareness to begin the process of healing and release. There are also practical ways to begin breaking the cycle.
- Your achievements or level of performance is not indicative of your self-worth. You have always been worthy, so you need to believe it so you can feel deserving of the things you desire.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself and expect too much of yourself in short time frames. If you do you will falter before you even start. Too many perfectionists get stuck overthinking, so they never take action. They have a gazillion plans, but they never get executed. What ONE plan are you going to do today?
- Expect the possibility of setbacks and challenges, so be prepared to give yourself some time. Do your best but never blame yourself or compare yourself with others, as this can be the surest way to feel not good enough.
Whatever you do, regardless of how long it takes, or how imperfect it may turn out to be, remove the worried furrowed look and replace it with a smile. You need to know how to calm your mind and protect your mental health.